IT Minister Paul Swain probably wouldn't be too thrilled to be written about as "talking the talk" about e-commerce. He would much rather, I'm sure, be described as avoiding doing so. "There's a lot of waffle in the area of e-commerce and it drives me mad, to be honest," Swain told a group of IDG journalists a fortnight ago. (IDG publishes Computerworld among its titles.) The minister was giving us a briefing on his hopes for the government's November e-commerce summit, which he's insistent will be a practical affair. Its target audience is small to medium-sized organisations, whose survival depends on gearing up for doing business electronically, the minister believes. The government's spending $200,000 on the two-day Auckland summit, which will cost $400 to attend. The idea of having no charge on the door was rejected on the ground that attendance wouldn't be valued if people weren't made to pay. For their $400, Swain wants small businesses to be able to take away some lessons on how to apply e-commerce to their operations. An expo that will run for the duration of the event will give non-paying visitors a glimpse of the technology which will make e-commerce work. "I want the summit to give them a feel for how they go about getting help for this." More than half the places at the conference, which will cater for 500 attendees, will be reserved for small business representatives. While Swain is counting on the summit imparting e-commerce lessons to the largest sector of the New Zealand economy (there are about 250,000 small businesses in the land), he describes it also as being symbolic of the difference between this government and the last. He acknowledges that his predecessor, Maurice Williamson, was also an advocate of the application of IT to the economy, but says he was handicapped by the National-led government's hands-off approach to running the country. "They were caught in an ideological timewarp." The Labour-Alliance lot believe in getting more involved, which Swain claims is the hallmark of those economies that are thriving today. "Overseas economies that are progressing are those where the private sector and government are working together." That means joining forces to reduce the New Zealand economy's dependency on exports of primary products, which Swain says is a goal of his government. In place of commodity exports will be knowledge-based industries. If you're getting a little tired of hearing all of this, then it's probably about time we saw some tangible results. Swain might paint himself as the practical man to deliver the goods, but that doesn't stop him resorting to that word of the moment -- "passionate" -- when talking about how communications, IT and commerce, three of his many portfolios, make him feel. I'm glad to report, however, that despite that lapse he does seem more intent on walking the e-commerce walk than uttering earnest declarations of ardour.
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